Choose Peace With Your Wallet
Russia was represented at the last Olympics, despite its doping ban. Now the IOC president is trying to find ways they can compete in Paris, despite their invasion of Ukraine.
We argue that the if those running the Games don’t want to stand up for Olympic ideals, then the public must act to ensure they do.
At the delayed Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2021, a country called ROC took 5th place in the medal table. Of course, there is no country called ROC – this being the abbreviation for ‘Russian Olympic Committee’ – and was necessary because Russia’s name, flag and anthem were banned.
This situation arose after the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), in 2019, spotted anomalies in Russia’s lab files relating to doping. Russia was banned for four years, and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) described the tampering as “flagrant manipulation” and “an insult to the sporting movement.”
Perish the thought that cheating could lead to a punishment as draconian as a four-year ban. Clearly, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) thought this was well out of order and cut Russia’s four-year ban to just two.
Even then, there seemed to be concern that this might be too excessive, so Russian athletes were allowed to have their country’s red, white and blue on their uniforms.
Fast forward to today, and the IOC is now bending over backwards over not to offend Russia over its war in Ukraine.
You may be of the view that beginning the biggest conflagration in Europe for 80 years, trying to wipe your neighbour off the map by taking their lands, carrying out indiscriminate attacks against civilians, and using food as a weapon against the poorest countries in the world might be a good reason for banning that country’s athletes.
But if you were of that view then you clearly wouldn’t be suitable for running the IOC.
Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, is reported to have said that he “shares the grief and human suffering” of Ukrainian athletes”, but that “It is not up to governments to decide who can take part in which sports competitions”.
Nobody is suggesting that national governments decide. Rather, it is being suggested that he and his fellow committee see if they can locate a backbone and make a stand against the worst case of international aggression seen for generations.
But no – instead of stopping Russians from participating in Paris, the IOC is “exploring a ‘pathway’ that might allow Russian competitors to take part under a neutral flag.”
In a breath-taking piece of pontification, he also added that time would tell “who is doing more for peace, the ones who try to keep lines open and communicate, or the ones who want to isolate and divide”.
“Isolate and divide”. Really? That is what Russia has been doing for the last year to Ukraine. At the same time, destroying every bit of civilian infrastructure, they can reach.
It does beg the question of what would a country have to do to be thrown out of the Games?
But the Olympic Games is no longer about sport – it’s about big business. And a big business that needs to attract a lot of sponsorship.
The Paris Games official website identifies 27 partners of various levels and 16 other supporters, all of them some of the biggest corporations in the world, such as Samsung, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Visa and Proctor & Gamble.
They back the Olympics games because it brings them publicity and (so they hope) kudos. How will they feel, though, if, instead of kudos, it brings them the approbation of seeing their brand tainted with supporting an organisation that would not make a stand against a rogue nation?
At the start of the war, many companies left Russia immediately, but some had to be dragged away by the threat of consumer retaliation.
And that is what is needed now. If the leaders won’t lead, then the public must make a stand.
By acting together, we can make a difference. Our message of “Choose Peace With Your Wallet” couldn’t be clearer. If the IOC allows the participation of Russian athletes, to boycott those companies fund and sponsor the IOC.
Olympic officials are keen to cite the ideal mentioned by the Games modern founder, Pierre de Coubertin, “The Olympic Games are for the world, and all nations must be admitted to them.”
They may be wise to recall another of de Coubertin’s statements:
“The day when a sportsman stops thinking above all else of the happiness in his own effort and the intoxication of the power and physical balance he derives from it, the day when he lets considerations of vanity or interest take over, on this day his ideal will die.”
Sport unites the world – and there can be no clearer way of showing a country that it is now a pariah than banning its athletes from participating in the biggest sporting event.